On Jan. 20 we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, the third Monday of January around the day of his birth, January 15, 1929. He was born Michael King, Jr. When he was five, Michael and his father traveled to Germany in 1934. The theology and activism of the Protestant Reformation leader, Martin Luther, inspired Michael, Sr. to changed his name and his son’s.
Although he was the son, grandson, and great-grandson of Baptist ministers, he was considering becoming a doctor or a lawyer instead. He later decided that the Bible had “many profound truths which one cannot escape.” He decided to enter the Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, graduating with his PhD at the age of 25.
During his first year at the seminary, King got a C in public speaking. However, by his final year, he was receiving straight A’s and had become the valedictorian of his class. We can learn from him that we should never give in to discouragement. With God’s help, anything is possible.
King was a social activist and a spokesperson for the nonviolent civil rights movement. He rose to prominence during a bus boycott by African Americans in Montgomery. He is known to have played a key role in the civil rights movement. They jailed him 29 times, often on such trumped-up charges as driving 30 miles per hour in a 25-mph zone in Alabama in 1956.
When he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, King was the youngest person to do so, at age 35. (Malala Yousafzai now holds the record, winning the 2014 prize at age 17.) He turned over the prize money of $54,123 to support the civil rights movement.
On Aug. 28, 1963, King directed a march Washington, D.C., where he gave his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. His dream was that the inhabitants of the United States would be judged by their personal qualities and not by the color of their skin: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’”
On April 4, 1968, King was assassinated by a racist while speaking in Tennessee in support of the struggling garbage workers of that city. It had been only four years earlier that he had received the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent campaign against racism.
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill that named the third Monday in January as the holiday observance “Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday.” It took 17 years for all 50 states to recognize this holiday.
Americans are often encouraged to observe this day not simply as a day off from work, but also as a “Day of Service” to others through appropriate civic, community, and service projects. It’s an opportunity to give to others in any way we can – whether it’s a community project or simply being kind to others in our community.
The following are some of Martin Luther King’s famous quotations. “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” (Stride Toward Freedom, 1958).
“Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man wisdom, which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals.” (A sermon on August 30, 1959).
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” (Strength to Love, 1963). “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed.” (From the Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963).